Saturday, November 17, 2018

Cecina, aka The Little Black Dress of Appetizers

   Growing up in a working class Italian American household, I learned a LOT about not wasting stuff and making ends meet...usually right around the Thursday payday. Boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese, peppers stuffed with whatever was left in the fridge, Jumbo bags of hot dogs from Food For Less, and waffles made with 7 up or sometimes Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer were the norm.

   I started cooking young, of out of self-defense. My mother was from a different background than my father and was not brought up to do housework, so shit got real interesting when she turned her hand to cooking.  She never seemed to realize that preheating the oven was something one had to do to cook food properly, and so we ate half-cooked meats, charred on the outside (because "on" is "on" and who the hell pays attention to those pesky oven dials and what they're saying). She baked lava cakes before their time simply because boxed cake mix was put into the oven and then the oven turned on. It's a wonder we weren't all dead from salmonella.
   My dad's immigrant grandparents on the other hand, were excellent cooks. My mom's parents liked going to the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel on holidays if dad's immigrant side of the family was going to be attending. I guess they wanted to  make sure EVERYONE was speaking English around the holiday turkey. Considering this picture of those days, I guess they got their wish.

   My dad's family was fun. There were chicken feet boiling in a big pot on their stove (still wood burning) in their old, old, house. There were homemade ravioli, and broddo one could use as a mirror it was so clear. There were pigs feet and other startlements to my mothers old school American relatives when they showed up, and not many of dad's people spoke much English. I thought if I spoke English to them LOUDLY and slowly they'd understand me. I must have been a real pain in the ass to them.
   Mom's side were Republicans, dad's were Democrats and much fighting ensued. One fight ended with the removal of our furniture by my mom's dad who had given them the house...and I guess the furniture too evidently. Anyway, the upshot of all of this is I learned to cook, and I learned to be thrifty.  Which brings me to Torta de Ceci, that wedge shaped thing in the picture at the top of this page.

   Torta  de Ceci  aka Cecina belongs to what is called Cucina Povera, The Kitchen of the Poor. It's very, very easy to fix, costs nearly nothing, and one can dress it up or down, add or subtract. It's a basic, and a great dish to serve as an appetizer to a group.  All one needs for Cecina is a 10 inch cast iron pan and a bag of garbanzo flour. I like serving it on Holidays before my Italian style Thanksgiving, and it's perfect it if your group includes vegans, vegetarians, or anyone who is gluten free. Here's how to fix it.


Here's What You Need:

3.5 oz garbanzo flour
5 Tbs olive oil
300 ml water
salt and pepper to taste

Here's What To Do:

Mix the garbanzo flour and the water in a bowl.
Blend it together well and then cover the bowl and let it sit for a couple of hours.

Coat a 10 inch cast iron skillet  with 3 Tbs of olive oil.
Put the olive oil coated skillet into a cold oven  (too bad mom never tried this one she'd have been a natural) and turn it on to 450 degrees.
When the oven is at 450 take the skillet out of the oven.
Pour the cecina bater into the hot hot skillet, drizzle 2 Tbs of olive oil over the batter then swirl it a bit with a spoon.
Put the skillet back into the 450 degree oven for 15  minutes.
After 15 minutes open the oven and move the skillet to the top rack and raise the heat to 500 degrees. Broil for about 5 minutes or so. This can cook really fast depending on ones oven so do keep and eye on it. When it starts to turn  golden and crusty take it out.

The finished Cecina should  be something firm enough to cut into slices.
Run a silicone spatula around  the edges and underneath the Cecina to loosen it.
Now, place a plate on top of the cast iron pan and turn it over so that the Cecina unmolds. The bottom is now the top! 

Slice it into  wedges. You can serve this topped with ricotta and pea shoots, olive tapenade,  caponata, proscuitto. Plain or fancy, you name it. Cecina is only  limited by your imagination and whatever your guests feel like eating.

So there it is. A simple, easy, warming treat for the holidays. Coming up next, more holiday dishes and how I became a restaurant consulting chef for gluten free dining.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Farewell to Patsy


   I've been away from this blog for a bit as we've been dealing with some loss in the family. Our lovely Siberian Husky Patsy died at the age of 14. Patsy was with us through the death of my younger sister, my parents, and another tangle with cancer and chemo for me.  Everyone in the neighborhood knew and loved her. She was a good doggo and her loss leaves a big collar to be filled.

We're recovering and are in the process of adopting another Siberian Husky. Because of the popularity of Game of Thrones, it turned  out that a LOT of people got Siberian Husky puppies  (Hey, Jon Snow)

Once these would-be DireWolves/dogs grew up,  inexperienced Husky owners didn't know how to deal with the breed (they're very tricksey) and many of them have landed in shelters and rescue groups. There are plenty of grown up Huskies out there looking for people who are willing to learn and understand them. Just sayin'. Check your local shelters.

  Knowing now  that another husky is coming to us I'm back in the mood to cook again and write about it. That said, it's the time of year again for company, parties, and family feasting. Thanksgiving is next week, and then the celebratory madness that leads to the end of the year. Still trying to feel it here.
   I was trying to figure out what to share, since the weather has turned cold yet. We're huddled indoors as a result of the smoke from The Camp Fire which is 180  miles away from us. Tell that to the BAAQMD which pegs us today at 171... not good, not good at all. My cousin is an MD in Paradise and the hospital burned down as did her medical offices. The folks up there need any help that can be given, so if you can help at all, THIS is where to get more info. I'm going to  be back in a day or so with a bunch of recipes that are some of our favorites for this time of year.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Lunch From The Garden : Bitter melon, Eggplant, and Potato

   One thing is clear now that Alan is eating a mainly vegetarian diet with occasional forays into fish, we are really and truly cleaning out our garden. Every spring I plant a lot of vegetables, 3 or 4 varieties of eggplants, 3 types of peppers, squashes, tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, beets plus various herbs. This year I also planted bitter melon since I was tired of 50 mile round-trips to the Laotian market in Santa Rosa in hopes of finding them. If you live in a city, any Asian Market carries them. Out here in the woods and vineyards growing my own saves a lot of work and what I can't use I pass along to Indian friends who live in town. If you've never had bitter melon, they can be an acquired taste. There are two varieties  the Indian...

 ...and the Chinese.

The ones I grew this year were the Chinese variety.

Bitter melon is also not just a vegetable, it's been used for many years in Asian cultures as a medicine. All the info on bitter melon, its history and usage  you can find right  here. Also, there are a couple of ways of preparing it. Some dishes call for it to be salted and soaked like eggplant which removes the bitter flavor. Others call for just removing the seeds and tossing it in. Either way those seeds have got to go no matter how you are cooking it.

As an example I'll show you the inside of a bitter melon (Indian variety)  from a recipe I did a few years back...seeds.....

No seeds.....

Just poke them out. So in preparing them, salt them and let them sit for 30 minutes, then rinse them off and press  all that bitterness out. If only life were that simple. So that's the bitter melon notes .
The recipe itself is very quickly prepared and courtesy of Rinku Bhattacharya  @wchestermasala

Bitter Melon With Eggplant and Potato


Here's What You Need:


2 Yukon Gold potatoes
1 Bitter Melon
2 Tbs  vegetable oil. Traditionally mustard oil but I usually use coconut since it's easier to get.
3  medium Japanese eggplants, or 1 large one cut into wedges
1 tsp Bengali 5 Spice mix  recipe is here
( this is a combo of blended spices found at most markets you can make it yourself if you wish)
1/2 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri chili (or cayenne)

Here's What To Do:


Cut the eggplants into rounds then quarter them.

Peel and cube the potatoes.

Cut the bitter melon into rounds.

Remove the seeds.

When the seeds are gone:
Put the melon slices into a bowl and cover them in coarse salt.
Coat the slices and rub the salt in.

Place a weight on the slices (I put a plate on top of the bitter melon and set a jug of vinegar on it) and let them sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The object is to squeeze out the bitter juices.
  After the melon has been pressed, rinse the slices off in cold running water.

Make sure all the salt is rinsed off. Squeeze them to get the last  juices out, then blot them dry with a paper towel.

Now your bitter melon are ready for anything!
Take the bitter melon slices and dice them.
Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet or kadhai on medium heat
When the oil is hot add in the Bengali 5 spice mix.

Stir it around until the spices crackle.
Add in all the vegetables and stir, then add turmeric and salt.

Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for about 5 minutes.
Take the lid off and check on things.

When the potatoes have started to crisp, and turn soft add in the Kashmiri chili or Cayenne.

Cook for another few minutes. When all the vegetables are cook through and softened serve it up.
I served this with rice and some dal for a simple vegetarian lunch.

Coming up next, getting ready for the coming holiday season with all the great fall flavors. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori  

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

It's Fig Season In Sonoma. Time for Fig and Lobster Risottto!

   If there is one fruit that stands out among my favorites, cherry, pomegranate, and persimmon, it's figs. I love them. Any variety, any time. One of the first things we did when we put the vegetable garden in at our new house was plant a fig tree. I thought I was buying a Mission fig. Instead our tree is a panache fig.

Tiger striped, and incredibly sweet, they are the last figs to ripen in fig season so we're still waiting. However, we have a friend who has a magnificent fig tree but hates figs. Isn't that always the way it is? He's perfectly happy to let me pillage his tree every year around this time. I take away pounds of figs. When I see them at the market for 6.99 for a little basket I laugh because up here in Sonoma figs are like weeds. They grow all along the roadsides and anyone can just help themselves. A few years back a friend and I did the whole gleaning thing and we gathered pounds and pounds and pounds of unwanted figs. I made preserves from mine. If you'd like the recipe it's here...Fig Jam. Or, if you'd like a roasted fig and goat cheese ice cream...I've made that too.

The recipe is here.But now I'm interested in something beyond just the figs...I'm into the fig leaves. Yes, fig leaves. Straight up Adam and Eve wardrobe, now I discover it's edible. Who knew?

   As it turns out fig leaves can be used for a variety of purposes very similar to grape leaves. They can be used as a food wrapping, they can be ground of tea, they can be smoked and used as an ingredient such as these Smoked Fig Leaf Shortbread Cookies.

They can also be a simple ingredient in a risotto which is what I'm talking about today. This all came together around a bunch of free figs and a huge lobster tail sale. If lobster is ever on sale anywhere, I'm there!

So, if you can get your pie hooks on some cheap lobster, fresh figs, and a few fresh non sprayed fig leaves I've got a recipe for you.

Fig And Lobster Risotto

Here's What You Need:

1 dozen fresh figs
1 fresh unsprayed large fig leaf
2 lobster tails
1/2 cup of white wine
1 shallot thinly sliced
1 cup of arborio rice
2 cups of water
2 tsp of salt
3 sage leaves
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs unsalted butter

Here's What To Do:

 Wash, dry, and cut the fresh figs into halves, then quarters . Set aside.

Take the meat from the lobster tails and cut it into bite sized pieces. Set aside.
Save the shells if you like, they can be used for lobster stock.
Slice the sage leaves thinly and set aside.

In a large pot for risotto heat the olive oil.
When the oil is hot pour the rice into the pot and stir it around to warm it.

Now add in the 2 cups of water and 2 tsp of salt. When the water comes to a boil lay the fig leaf on top of the water and rice.

When the water starts to boil, put a lid on the pan and turn the heat down to the lowest it will go. Let it cook for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile back at the figs...

Heat a couple of Tbs of olive oil in a skillet.
When the oil is hot add in the thinly sliced shallot.
Saute it until the shallot starts to lightly brown.
Add in the thinly sliced sage leaves.

Saute them for a minute or two.
Add in the 1/2 cup of white wine, along with the figs.

Saute them for a little bit to soften them letting the wine evaporate.
When the figs have cooked add in the pieces of lobster.

Stir them around and simmer them gently. The lobster cooks fast so keep an eye on it, you don't want it to toughen.
Stir everything together well on a low flame.

Right about now the rice should be done. Add 1Tbs of unsalted butter to the fig and lobster mixture.

This gives it a nice creamy texture.
Take the lid off the pot of risotto.

Remove the fig leaf.

Add the fig, lobster, and sage mixture to the risotto.

Stir it all together.  Add a few shreds of fresh sage over the top. Voila! You are done!

Serve it up!

There it is a lovely fall lunch, light and elegant and it only takes 15 minutes to cook!

Coming up next, an Indian special from the garden featuring  eggplant, potato, and bitter melon . Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Where I've Been, What's Been Happening, + Have Some White Peach and Lavender Tart Gluten Free.

So, it's been a while. I was looking back on my blog the other day and I see I've posted a lot fewer recipes in the last two years then I normally would. I haven't stopped cooking and as a matter of fact I've been doing a lot more cooking, only I haven't been able to write about it - until now. I'm a screenwriter by trade. I work with my husband /writing partner Alan Berger 5 days a week. It's how we earn our living, that's what pays the bills. I cook most every day but my weekends were the time I devoted to The Colors of Indian Cooking. The weekends were when I'd turn my kitchen into a cooking lab/photo studio. I cook, Alan takes the pictures. Obviously, all that activity is NOT what happens on work days, but it's what I've been doing for the 9 years I've been writing this blog.
    We've been very busy the last two years, partially because we just finished a TV pilot and series bible, but also because I've been under contract for the last two years working on developing the menu for the CocoaPlanet restaurant here in Sonoma. So, that's where I've been.
For two years my weekends were devoted to starters, mains, and a LOT of desserts. Everything had to be gluten free, (I've developed my own flour blends) many things vegan, and they also wanted a menu friendly to the lactose intolerant. So after a week of writing, rewriting, and notes for our writing work, every Saturday I'd cook and then we'd meet for recipe testing on whatever I was doing. If it worked it would go into the chefs book at the restaurant.  Weekends were still consumed with cooking,  only I wasn't publishing any of it. People were eating it.

Now, CocoaPlanet is moving to Arizona, so my time as a consultant for them here in Sonoma, is done. A lot of the pictures of what I've been cooking I've posted here, on twitter and instagram. I also have 2 big books of my recipes. 

Now I'm trying to decide what exactly to do with all this stuff. Basically, I've got the makings of a cookbook...several cookbooks to be exact. I'm thinking  gluten free desserts to start. For years my friends Paula Wolfert and Steve Sando have told me I should do a cookbook, but I thought I'd never have he time. Now I've accumulated a whole bunch of recipes and I am also  more than a bit overwhelmed as to what to do. I think I really need to do something with all of this.

A few weeks back I made a white peach and lavender frangiapne tart. People asked for the recipe and now I'm finally getting around to publishing it.

White Peach and  Lavender Frangiapane Tart

The Pastry

Here's What You Need:

1 and 1/4 cup of all purpose gluten free  or regular flour , plus extra for dusting.
1 stick of unsalted butter  at room temperture
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbs sugar 
1 egg yolk
3 Tbs of ice water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Here's What to Do:

1. Mix your tart dough. In the bowl of a food processor pulse together 1 and 1/4 cups of gluten free tart flour mix, 3 Tbs sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, the lemon zest, and 7 tbs unsalted butter. Pulse these together until you have a fine meal-like blend.

2. In a small bowl beat together: 1 egg yolk, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice, 3 Tbs ice water.

3. Drizzle this mixture over the flour butter mixture in the food processor and pulse until it forms a dough. This happens pretty quickly.

4. Take the dough out and put it on a surface dusted with tapioca flour. Knead a couple of times, roll it into a ball and then flatten it into a disc.

5. When the dough is blended and formed into a disc, wrap it in saran wrap or waxed paper and let it firm up in the freezer for about 10 minutes before working with it.
You can also just keep it in the freezer to use later or roll it out and place it in well greased individual tart pans for later baking and filling.

If you are doing this:

1. Butter 5 small tart pans with removable bottoms - or just one large pan.

2. Cut your disc of chilled dough into five pieces. Or make one large tart.

3. Roll one out and shape it into a disc. Fit the dough into the tart pan. Trim away the excess dough. Do this with each tart pan.

4. Fit Saran Wrap into the pie crust. Poke holes into the crust through the Saran Wrap. Place the tart pans in the freezer to be filled and baked later.

Here's What To Do: (blind baking)

1. Take a big piece of tin foil. Take the pie crust out of the freezer. Remove the
Saran Wrap. Place the foil into the pie crust and up the sides. 

2. Fill the pie shell with rice, beans or pie weights.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pop the tart pan onto a baking sheet and bake it in the oven for about 6 minutes.

4. Remove it. Take the foil and pie weights out the crust. Put the crust back in the over for another 6 minutes. Done. Now lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees  and let your blind baked crust cool a bit while you make the filling

The Filling:

Here’s What You Need :

Frangipane Cream
1/3 cup  caster sugar 
6 Tbs unsalted butter at room temperture
 1/2 cup gluten free or regular flour
 3/4 cup almond flour
 2 eggs
1 tsp almond extract

4 ripe but firm white peaches
1 tsp  crumbled lavender flowers
1 tsp lemon juice

1 Tbs water 
3 Tbs peach jam

Here’s What to Do:

1. To make the filling, put all the frangipane cream ingredients into a food processor and mix them together. You will get a thick yet still spreadable paste.

2. To prepare the peaches slice them and drizzle them with a bit of lemon juice so they don't turn color.

Lower the oven heat to 350 degrees

3. Fill the tart with the frangipane cream. Spread it evenly. Arrange the peach slices in a row on the surface of the tart until it's filled.

4. Bake for another 40 to 45 minutes until the frangipane is set and the crust is nice and golden.

 5. Take the tart from the oven. Heat the glaze in a microwave for about 20 seconds or so, then brush the hot tart surface (peaches and all) with the glaze. Set the tart on a cooling rack and let it cool before unmolding 

There it is, and there's a lot more where that came from. The big question is  how do I do this? Scripts I know, cookbooks are a new world for me. Stay tuned! 

Coming up next back to the world of Indian food as my garden delivers a Summer menu follow along on Twitter @kathygori

Thursday, August 2, 2018

A Simple South Indian Fish Curry. Make it in 60 Minutes For The Perfect Lunch or Dinner.

   With all the crap going on out in the world right now, frankly I haven't been much in the mood to write about food.  However, everyone's got to eat and I get a lot of relaxation out of cooking. It's almost a form of zen for me. So even though we may be consumed with the outside world, it's good and healthy to drop back a bit and feed yourself and your family  something delicious like this fish curry. Alan is now mainly eating a vegetarian diet, with the exception of fish, so I guess he's actually a pescetarian . Every couple of days I interrupt the vegetarian/vegan leanings and toss him a fish.  The guy has given up burgers after all. 

There are a lot of amazing fish dishes in the cuisine of South India, and many of them involve coconut, using either coconut milk, or ground coconut. This recipe uses plain ground coconut. One can use either fresh or frozen coconut meat. I used plain grated, unsweetened dried coconut for this dish. I have the fresh at my disposal but I wanted to make sure the recipe could work for people who might have access only to the dried coconut found in most markets. Everything else in the dish is readily available with the exception of the fresh curry leaves and if you don't have those, just leave them out as there is no substitute.

So grab yourself some fresh firm meaty fish (I used cod but snapper, hake, pollack etc will do just fine) and get your curry on. The other great thing about this recipe? It's ready in under an hour which makes it a perfect lunch dish for our writing week.

South Indian Dry Fish Curry

Here's What You Need:

The Paste:
1 and 1/4 lbs of firm fleshed white fish (I used cod in this dish)
1 small onion finely chopped
1 fresh tomato chopped
1 Tbs whole balck p[eppercorns
6 dried red chilies
1 and 1/2 tsp of salt
3/4 cup plus 1/8 cup of grated dried unsweetened coconut

The Fish:
3 Tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal (if you don't have it leave it out)
2 tsp turmeric
2/3 cup of water
A handful of fresh curry leaves
A handful of chopped fresh cilantro

Here's What To Do:

Put all the paste ingredients in the bowl of a food processor...

...and grind them up.

Cut the fish into cubes.

Get your urad dal (if you have it) mustard seeds and turmeric together.

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet or kadhai.
When the oil is hot add in the urad dal and mustard seeds.
When they strt to sizzle and pop, add in the Paste...

...and turmeric.

Cook everything for about 3 minutes until it turns fragrant then add the water.

Bring the water to a boil, and when it's boiling add in the fish.

Cook everything for 5 minutes or until the fish is fully cooked.
Shake the pan every now and then to cook things evenly. Be certain nothing is sticking and burning.
Then add the curry leaves if using them...

...and the cilantro...

...and you are done! I prepared some basmati rice cooked with cashews, sultanas, cinnamon, and saffron. I served the fish curry on top of that.

You can also serve this with chapattis, or any green vegetable dish.

This cooks up really quickly which makes it a perfect weekday meal, but it also looks pretty cool which makes it company-worthy if you add a bunch of other Indian dishes to go along. I love an entree that takes less than and hour especially during these super-hot summer months!!!

So there you have it. A simple, easy fish curry.
Coming up next by request a White Peach Lavender Frangpane Tart that happens to be #glutenfree.

Follow along on Twitter @kathygori



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